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About Town…

10th March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

LA Natural Gas to the EU Rescue… The crisis in the Ukraine could prove an unexpected benefit for Louisiana businesses. We could replace Russia as Europe’s—and the Ukraine’s — largest supplier of Natural Gas.

Vladimir Putin’s greatest trump card to stop European Union and particularly German sanctions again­st Russia, in the wake of his invasion of the Crimea, is the simple threat to turn off the liquid natural gas pipelines flowing across the Dnieper River and into the EU.

Sixty percent of Ukraine’s natural gas — and most of Europe’s – is provided thanks to Putin’s pet oligarchs at the Russian firm Gas­prom. That is, unless, the U.S. makes up the difference, a profitable possibility that did not exist previously.

The American answer to Putin’s extortion actually would be a boost to our balance of payments and the overall economy, by allowing LNG tankers to export US Natural Gas to Europe, typically from refineries along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. That is if the Obama Administration agrees to end a 30-year effective ban on gas exports, and sources close to the White House believe that the President might be close to agreeing.

Since the oil crisis of late 1970s, it has required a Presidential waver to export most fossil fuels, making the export of petroleum and LNG, from US shores almost impossible. The Carter Admini­stration ban centered around a danger that the nation would run out of domestically produced petroleum and natural gas. Last year, however, 97 percent of the US’s fossil fuel energy needs were drilled domestically thanks to hydraulic fracking, and 17.9 percent of that total came from the Tuscaloosa Shale that runs across Louisiana from Shreveport to the Northshore — in an arc, directly along side the majority of refining plants perched on the Mississippi River.

Moreover, Pelican State refineries share the distinction with those of the Houston Ship Channel of being virtually the only places in American were ocean tankers can tie up and fill their bowls without need of pipeline or transit point. The first major export point, at Sabine Pass, La., is tentatively scheduled to open in late 2015, however, even if the President lifts the ban currently in place, most others could not commence operations until 2017 or later.

The Democrats’ Great Hope… According to unnamed sources who spoke to news site LaPolitics, wealthy Democratic businessman and former Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard is “strongly considering” a bid for governor next year.

Except for Mitch Landrieu, Democrats have lacked a top-tier candidate to take on Sen. David Vitter and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, the effective announced candidates so far. That has proved a boom to Dardenne, whose moderate positions on some issues has won Demo­cratic support in the past, and could help him in a run off against Vitter.

However, if Bernhard can tap his considerable bank account to self-fund a campaign against both men, he would likely be able to garner enough Democratic support to make a runoff. Easily in fact, and as a prominent corporate head would have a simpler time than the only announced Democrats so far, House Minority Leader John Bel Edwards and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell. Neither is possessed of extensive campaign resources.

Of course, Bernhard had made noises about a challenge to GOP frontrunner David Vitter in 2010, but ultimately decided against a run. That has led some to call Bernhard the “Lucy” of Louisiana politics.

Coroner’s Race Not Dead… When a candidate like Dr. Dwight McKenna just barely misses a primary victory, his runoff opponent should be worried. How­ever, just looking at the endorsements that Dr. Jeffery Rouse is earning harkens that Saturday’s election could be a close race regardless.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu came out for the mental health head of the Orleans Corner’s Office (Rouse’s current position), believing him to be the best successor to Dr. Frank Minyard. Of course, few insiders were surprised by the endorsement. McKenna is co-owner of the New Orleans Tribune newspaper, with his wife Beverly, and has been highly critical of the incumbent Mayor.

State Rep. Cameron Henry, a prominent Rouse supporter, says, “It’s going to be close. I don’t think anyone disagrees with that.”

This article originally published in the March 10, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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